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Valentine’s Day has come and gone. It's a day where the sweet smell of love is in the air. Candy, roses, jewelry, and a beautiful, romantic, candlelight dinner is on someone’s list today.

As this day comes to an end, I am compelled to think about what love means to me. I’m re-evaluating everything I thought I knew about love: How it should behave, how I should receive it, and how I should give, act, and even react to it.

See, here’s the thing: I didn’t grow up in an environment where love -- real love -- was expressed, communicated, or shown in its entirety.

Love had conditions, and the outcome of those conditions was felt in the worst way. The aftermath conditioned me to believe that to be loved or to receive love; I had to perform perfectly. Otherwise, when I didn’t measure up, or I came up short, the love that I craved was withheld -- or at least not given with the same energy, attention, and tender-loving care as the kind that comes with acceptance. So because of that, expressing love did not come easy for me.

All of that changed when I fell in love with my soulmate. He worked hard to unmask the years of armor that I’d built up around my heart. Confronting me like a head-on collision, he left me with no other choice but to brace for impact -- I could not swindle my way out or avoid it. But as time went on, I was able to open up to love by letting my guard down.

On this journey of self-discovery about love, I have learned and picked up a couple of pointers or two. I’m still figuring this “love thing” out, but for now, here’s my concept on what love it or isn’t.

As often recited at weddings, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy; it does not boast; it is not proud.” I have read this particular bible verse thousand times over, but at this moment, I am in absolute awe at how far I’ve grown in these areas. I’ve learned that love is WORK -- hard work, but well worth the fight. It’s having the patience and ability to work through any and everything. It is understanding and knowing the faults in your partner, but loving him/her anyway. It’s enduring, forever evolving, and following a magnetic pull that guides you to do better not only for yourself but for those that you love. It has a kind heart that is open to communication, even if or when it makes you feel uncomfortable.

Love is trusting your partner with all of your secrets and knowing that they will never leave the room. It is showing up for someone other than yourself. Love is fully opening up and showing vulnerability because you trust that your partner is your strength. Love is a sense of security. Love is believing in your partner, even when she/he doesn’t feel the same way. It’s never letting them be less than great. Love is tearing down walls, only to build each other back up.

Love is fully being aware of your partner’s needs, finishing each other’s sentences, and missing one another when you haven’t spoken in a couple of hours. Love is being grateful and showing how thankful you are that he or she is in your life. Love is saying I love you a thousand times a day and showering your partner with an equal amount of kisses. Love is being attentive to one’s needs, moods, thoughts, words, actions, and how they move. Love is laughing over spilled milk because you know you get another go at it.

Love is having a relationship with your best friend -- laughing at the corniest jokes, the inside ones that only you and your partner get. Love is a shared T-shirt over popcorn and a great movie. Love is that perfect song that makes you want to sing your heart out to your loved one. It’s an enthusiastically deep conversation over a great book because he/she knows you crave that. Love is spontaneity. It requires self-care and refuge from pain, but it returns a precious blessing -- with all the people in the world, you know one beating heart is perfectly aligned with yours.

The days of guarding my heart are a somewhat distant memory now. Before, I doled out love with a long-handled spoon and carefully managed who I let sip of its nectar. I was always in survival mode and protecting myself, and I often resorted to defense mechanisms that left some thinking I was bitter, emotionally unavailable, or even closed off.

Now, I know that love respects, protects, honors, preserves, and commits without judgment. Though it can be a challenge, it’s a rewarding one that I welcome wholeheartedly and celebrate daily.

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